The Genealogy Sojourner: Public Fame Private Pain
One was an inspiring teacher, preservationist, and celebrated chronicler of Silicon Valley's storied past. The other was larger than life both on and off the screen, whose path from scandal ridden movie star to redemption was cut short by an untimely death. Who were these men and what could they possibly have in common? Ultimately they were family, half brothers, who influenced San Jose's illustrious past. Their names were William Clyde Arbuckle and Roscoe Conkling Arbuckle.
The Arbuckle And Gordon Families: Who Were They?
William Clyde Arbuckle's skill as a researcher would come in handy while trying to decipher the often confusing connections, common names, and tragedies of his own family tree. It begins with the patriarch William Goodrich Arbuckle and his first wife Mary Elizabeth Gordon. They had at six children that I could find: Lola, Nora, Arthur, William H, Mary, and Roscoe.
Mary Gordon passed away in 1898 in Santa Anna, CA and William G remarried to a woman named Mary Ellen Gordon in San Jose in 1900. She had previously been married to Joseph Daniel Gordon and they had at least seven children: Nellie, Stella, Mary, George, Charles, Frank, and Joseph. To further complicate matters however May's first husband Joseph was likely married a second time and they had three daughters: Rhoda, Irene, and Gladys.
William G and Mary Ellen actually had two sons: Glenn G Arbuckle who died in 1902 and William Clyde Arbuckle who passed away in 1994.
But that wasn't the end of the historical connections. The elder Joseph Gordon was the grandson of Andrew Jackson Gordon and his wife Margaret, two Donnor Party survivors. Not to be left out Alfred St John, son of Nora Arbuckle and her husband Walter St John, was a noted actor in his own right before his tragic death from a heart attack in 1963.
To gain further insight into these fascinating families and learn more of their stories, try the following:
- Genealogy Websites: There are a host of sites available to aid in your research. Here are three to check out:
- Newpaper Websites: The exploits of the Arbuckle and Gordon families are detailed in numerous newspaper articles. Here are a few interesting titles:
- California Digital Newspaper Collection
- San Jose Mercury News (Newsbank 1985-Present)
- Remembering Roscoe To Fans He Was Fatty, But To Clyde Arbuckle He Was His Big Brother
- San Jose Historian Dies Clyde Arbuckle, 94, Spread His Love Of The South Bay Through Teaching, Writing
- Brother Of Arbuckle Weds In Redwood City (Clyde's marriage to his first wife Gladys in 1921, she died in 1954)
- Runs Into A Telegraph Pole And Breaks His Neck (Clyde's half brother George Gordon's death resulting from a mishap when he was chasing a cow in 1905)
- Descendant Of Donner Party Dies In Fresno (Clyde's half sister Nellie Gordon who was married to his other 1/2 brother William H Arbuckle)
- Actor '"Fuzzy" St John Dies ( Roscoe and Clyde's nephew)
- Final Resting Places And Legacy: What ultimately became of the families individual earthly remains and how their impact reaches impacts us today.
- Clyde Arbuckle: A 90 Year Biography by Leonard McKay
- Clyde Arbuckle by Erna M. Holyer
- Historic Names, Persons, And Places In Santa Clara County by Roscoe D. Wyatt and Clyde Arbuckle
- Looking Back: Clyde Arbuckle San Jose's First City Historian by Ralph Pierce
Available through Link+:
- Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle : A Biography Of The Silent Film Comedian, 1887-1933 by Stuart Oderman
- Frame-up! : The Untold Story Of Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle by Andy Edmonds
- Arbuckle And Keaton: Their 14 Film Collaborations by James L. Neibaur
- Room 1219 : The Life Of Fatty Arbuckle, The Mysterious Death Of Virginia Rappe, And The Scandal That Changed Hollywood by Greg Merritt
San José Public Library has other resources so you too can do your own investigations, share the results with family and friends, and discover even famous people can have a shrouded past.